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Offering critique of another writer’s work and receiving critique on your own work are two of the most fraught parts of the editing process. Many professional authors confess to taking months to adjust and write again after receiving their editor’s first critique of their manuscript. But they’re also two of the most constructive elements of the editing process. Critically reading work teaches different narrative forms and structures, while receiving a variety of feedback provides various reader viewpoints and options to help edit and improve your prose.
In this fortnight you learn how to offer a constructive critique before undertaking your first round of critiquing each other’s work. By learning how to offer balanced feedback, you help improve a manuscript without destroying the confidence of the writer. Writers get enough rejection as it is; we don’t need it from our support group too!
TOPIC ONE: How To Critique – An Audio From Kim
Listen or download the audio for this section here!
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TOPIC TWO: Critiquing Guidelines – Giving Feedback
Critique groups can turn from civilised company to the wild, wild, west quickly without some checks and balances in place. The aim is to give constructive and actionable opinions and suggestions that improve a manuscript rather than personally attack an author. So here are some guidelines for giving feedback before we embark upon the first round of critiques this week:
- Start with a positive comment. Make it genuine.
- Don’t comment on spelling, punctuation, and grammar unless the author has specifically requested it. What they want from you are comments on the story. How did it make you feel?
- Be specific in your criticisms. Give the page, chapter or section numbers wherever possible. Suggest a specific outcome (e.g. make the character more likable) or suggest a specific course of action (e.g. rewrite the scene where she kicks the puppy). Don’t say things like: “Character needs work”; “Plot could be tighter” or; “Flesh out the setting”. Feedback needs to be much more specific and direct.
- Use a supportive tone. If you feel compelled to read dire parts of a manuscript aloud to your partner and laugh, you’re approaching this task with the wrong attitude. Don’t make a joke at the writer’s expense. Support them so that they leave with dignity intact. Talk about manuscripts respectfully. Be careful not to say or write anything that can be construed as belittling, impatient, mocking:
- Acknowledge the hard work put into a piece by being respectful. Practically speaking, authors will stop listening to you if you sound like a know-it-all who does not respect the many hours, weeks, or years of thought and labour that have gone into their work. Always remember they will ignore you if you come in with a high-handed tone.
- Everyone starts as a beginner. With support and hard work, writers do develop their craft, so be supportive and respectful at every stage.
- It’s sentimental to say, but ‘listen with your heart’. Respond not just with a clinical response, but with feeling. Talk about your reactions, and say how the story made you feel. A lot of the time that’s what a writer needs to hear. Saying the first chapter made you feel confused is more helpful than saying it needs to be tighter.
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TOPIC THREE: Critique Guidelines – Receiving Feedback
There are also some guidelines for when you receive feedback. When your work is under review:
- Listen: Don’t jump in to defend yourself. This means, in the nicest possible way, keeping your mouth closed. Don’t interrupt with, ‘Oh you didn’t understand, I was doing this and you didn’t get it’. It is unproductive and disrespectful to your peers who have spent hours reviewing your work.
- Don’t take it personally: The other writers are talking about your work, not you. Yes, it’s an expression of you, but if you take it personally you’ll never get better.
- Ask questions to clarify: Don’t be afraid to get specifics. You can’t make changes or edits if you don’t understand the feedback in the first place.
- Remember, it’s still your story: You’re in a great position in this course where a number of people are giving you feedback. Sure, if you get nine out of ten peers saying the same thing, that’s consensus. But if consensus is split, you can make the call; you don’t have to do what they say. What matters is that you listen and are open and committed to making the manuscript better.
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Critiquing can be a challenging process, so be generous and open in both giving and receiving feedback. All published authors get edited. Great writers value good editing and they will tell you that it never gets easier to take criticism. It is one of the parts of the business that all writers deal with. So be glad for the editing process, because even though it’s painful, it makes your novel better.
At nine points over the next 12 months you will provide feedback on the work of your peers and will receive one round of feedback on your own work.
Remember: You only get out what you put in! If you put in little thought or effort into critiquing your peers it is unlikely they will reciprocate with much feedback of their own when it comes to them critiquing your work. Put in the time and effort and you will find your peers are a generous bunch.
WHAT TO DO:
At the start of the year you would have chosen a slot for the first 15 pages of your manuscript to be critiqued by your peers. If this fortnight was your slot to be critiqued you should have been contacted by the tutor to submit the latest version of your first 15 pages. If not, please contact your tutor immediately via the Tutor’s Inbox.
If your piece is being submitted for critique this fortnight:
- Format your piece so it is double spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman, with 3cm margins on all sides. Make sure the title is in bold at the top and the byline ‘By [INSERT NAME HERE]’ is in bold below.
- Please number all pages.
- Name your file in the following convention: ‘[TITLE] – [AUTHOR NAME]’
- You are only allowed to submit 15 pages maximum. If the submitted piece is longer or not formatted as specified above, the tutor will reformat your submitted piece and cut off any pages over 15. Please don’t waste the tutor’s time and do follow the instructions.
- Your submission must be in a Microsoft Word document format (.doc .docx or rtf).
- Email your piece to the tutor at [email protected] no later than two weeks before your slot begins. If you submit late we cannot guarantee your peers will have the time to review your work.
Two pieces will be critiqued in each of these critique fortnights.
To critique work this week (compulsory):
- Save the two pieces below to your computer by right clicking on them and selecting ‘save as’.
- Rename the file: ‘[TITLE] – [AUTHOR NAME] – [YOUR NAME] Edit’
- You have ten days to critique these two pieces and post feedback.
- Make your comments/suggestions via Track Changes in Microsoft Word, or print the piece out and make notes on it by hand. Please note that if you choose to print the piece out and make notes by hand that you will need to rescan your critiqued copy into the computer and name the file with the above convention.
- Use the critiquing guidelines in Lesson Three to formulate your response to each piece.
- Email your feedback to the tutor at [email protected] within ten days of this lesson being made live.
- Post some overall thoughts and feelings about the work in the Lesson Three Critique Forum. What did you like about it? What did you feel could be improved? How did the pieces make you feel?
Your full critique will be forwarded onto the author of the piece. Make sure you regularly check in – the authors may ask clarifying questions in the Lesson Three Critique Forum in the final four days of the fortnight.
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